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To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, many runners and athletes have chosen to wear neck gaiters as face coverings while exercising, as they can be easier to breathe in. However, a recent Duke University study found that neck fleeces offer little protection compared to other materials.

Using 14 commonly worn masks, including N95 and homemade masks, the researchers tested how many respiratory droplets are emitted when wearing a particular mask while speaking for 10 minutes. The droplets were captured using a laser light and camera, and each mask was tested 10 times.

The results showed that, as expected, N95 masks were the most effective at filtering droplets, and three-layer surgical and cotton masks are also effective. But neck fleeces offered little protection. In fact, they actually produced a higher number of respiratory droplets compared to wearing no face mask at all because the material broke down larger droplets into smaller particles. Knitted masks and bandanas were also shown to be less effective.

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing cloth face coverings when social distancing isn’t possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you may be looking for something to replace your neck gaiters. After testing and wearing masks the past couple of months, we have advice on masks that are not only effective, but are also good for working out.   

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What is the best face mask

While the ineffectiveness of these materials can be alarming, there are cotton masks you can buy that will filter coronavirus particles well. After rigorously testing 10 popular face masks for breathability and effectiveness, we found that the Athleta Non Medical Face Masks we’re the best.

Our expert found they offered three layers of protection, while still offering breathability, something essential during the hot summer months. Additionally, they had an incredible fit thanks to the adjustable ear loops and nose wire, allowing it to fit most faces.

Unfortunately, the Athleta masks are currently on backorder through August 25, but there are a few more masks we recommend. The SummerSalt Face Coverings were one of our runner-ups. They are made with triple-layered fabric and offer a nice cone-shape for breathability. Our tester also found that the Plover Cotton Face Masks were super soft and offered several layers of protection, but were a little loose compared to other masks.

Another good option is the Champion Lay Flat Wicking Face Mask. While our tester didn’t try these, our editor, Amanda, has been using this face covering while running and working out. She likes that it’s breathable and is made of moisture-wicking fabric. But because it only offers a single layer of fabric, it’s best for athletic use than everyday wear.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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